Website editor, Gordon Mack, sets out a vision for the future of Rubh' an Dùnain and explains how the concept of establishing it as an online community came about. (An early version of this article was first published by the Associated Clan Macleod Societies in their online blog in September 2019.)
New life for an abandoned Skye community
Occasionally, just once or twice in a lifetime perhaps, you are privileged to set foot in a special place. Somewhere that carries a tangible sense of past aeons; somewhere history has stamped its footprints into the stones and the soil; a place where it is impossible not to feel touched by the extraordinary reach of time. For me, Rubh' an Dùnain is that place.
A remote derelict peninsula lost to civilisation for around 160 years, save for the sheep, the eagle and the deer, it is a landscape that touches the soul of Scottish, Celtic and West Highland heritage.
In 2015 one small family – descendants of Iain ‘Dubh’ MacAskill, 17th century head of the MacAskill clan and a principle leaseholder (tacksman) of Macleod lands in the west of Skye – launched this website in an effort not only to maintain a sense of identity and kinship, but also to foster on-going research into their ancestral homeland – and, more importantly, re-sow the seeds of a new community in this beautiful and abandoned place. You can now watch Roots of Revival, a 20-min online documentary of how the family put these lands back on the map.
This website has drawn praise from around the world and thousands have already visited online. However, to continue to grow and thrive, any strong and vibrant community demands on-going friendship and support. Today, the MacAskills of Rubh' an Dùnain Society has a vision for this intriguing land – now established formally as one of Scotland's Historic Monuments. It believes Rubh' an Dùnain, favoured for its important military location by the MacAskills – the Macleod chiefs' hereditary coast-watchers and bodyguards – has the potential to play a modern strategic role as a novel 21st century community.
The Society views this website as a catalyst for an online repopulation of the peninsula with virtual residents who could be scientists, archaeologists, historians, students, artists, musicians, school children, members of the Skye clans diaspora, Viking sailors – indeed anyone with an interest in the life, history and understanding of these lands. It's been given a working title, Friends of Rubh' an Dùnain, and the Society thinks its unique combination of history and geography, culture and heritage, offers to:
Demonstrate the relevance of timeless history within a contemporary landscape – meeting key objectives of Historic Environment Scotland; Become a tangible a reference point for the study of indigenous Gaelic, Celtic, Scottish and Scandinavian traditions, from boat-building to language and culture; Satisfy charitable funding criteria from varying perspectives; Deliver its virtual residents enormous resources on many different levels; Develop and extend social media interaction; Help constrain footfall on a valuable but delicate monument and yet still foster visitor interest in the Western Highlands of Scotland.
This is a project which is beyond the means of a small, self-supporting Society which wishes to continue primarily as a family group. It does recognise, however, that creating a new community will require hard work, a dedicated cheerleader, volunteers – and an injection of cash. But the family does undertake to devote time and effort to help establish Friends of Rubh' an Dùnain by:
Identifying and engaging with key stakeholders; helping to steer the creation of a core management team and operational structure; assisting with relevant set-up costs if necessary (though our own funds are limited); actively supervising the transition of website administration; helping to generate publicity as required; delivering enthusiasm.
So we are actively exploring ways in which Rubh' an Dùnain's unique ancient footsteps might be followed to help leads us all to a better future and ultimately create a new 21st century community template.